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Top four contenders for 1st District tout jobs, infrastructure needs at forum

by: Jaime Valdez State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici takes her turn addressing business and civic leaders at a forum Tuesday highlighting the top four contenders in the race for Oregon’s 1st Congressional District. Sitting behind her are State Rep. Brad Witt, Game Face founder Robert Cornilles and Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

It comes as little surprise that the word uttered most often at Tuesday's lunch forum for Oregon's 1st Congressional District contenders started with a 'J' and ended with an 'S.'

Yes, jobs - specifically how to bring and create more of them in the district and Oregon as a whole - were clearly on the minds of the candidates vying for the vacant seat of former U.S. Rep. David Wu.

Four of the 13 candidates vying for the seat were invited to participate - Brad Avakian, Suzanne Bonamici, Rob Cornilles and Brad Witt. Each of them summarized their platforms and answered submitted questions during the forum at Big Al's Entertainment Center on Southwest Barrows Road.

Sponsored by the Beaverton and Hillsboro chambers of commerce and moderated by Beaverton's Business Advocacy Committee Chairman Kevin Hohnbaum, the forum attracted about 80 members of the two chambers and their guests.

The candidates agreed the needs of their constituents - who come from a mix of densely populated urban areas and rural farmland - were similar.

'It's really not all that different,' said Avakian, Oregon's commissioner of labor and industries. 'It's about infrastructure development and making it possible for all citizens to be able to resume their role in the nation's economy.'

Cornilles, a Republican businessman who founded Game Face in Tualatin in 1995 and challenged Wu for the seat in 2010, said when it comes to getting people back to work, he doesn't care what background or political persuasion someone comes from.

'I've visited all the communities' in the district, he said. 'I didn't ask about what party they belonged to. I focused on (listening to) the results they needed to be accomplished.'

Bonamici, who represents Oregon Senate District 17, said she's hearing similar concerns from the residents she represents in Beaverton, Aloha, Northwest Portland and rural Washington County.

'The way I approach decision-making is I listen to my constituents and hear all points of view,' she said. 'Many of their interests are the same. They want to get back to work' and have strong public schools.

Witt, who represents Oregon's House District 31, touted his demonstrated ability to reach across party lines as a legislator.

'I was able to reach more agreements in the 2011 session than any of my colleagues,' the Democrat from Clatskanie said. 'As a negotiator, I know how to reach across the aisle.'

Citing his fight to reinstate shop and vocational classes that had been phased out of middle schools, Avakian said as a congressman he would advocate for a '21st Century Works Progress Administration,' referring to the public works employment program of the 1930s.

'Nowhere is there a better work force' than right here in Oregon, he said. 'We're continually sending our jobs overseas. I want a trade agreement that puts our country on an equal playing field with others in the world.'

A union representative in the seafood, grocery and forest industries, Witt said as a congressman he would work tirelessly to help businesses thrive.

He favors letting the President George W. Bush tax cuts expire and channeling the resulting revenue into rebuilding the country's roads and bridges.

'That money needs to be reinvested in the nation's infrastructure,' Witt said.

Regarding the congressional district's educational needs, many of the candidates were critical of the Bush-sponsored 'No Child Left Behind' measure, and called for more local control of classroom standards.

'We need to have local decisions about how schools are taught,' Bonamici said. 'Teachers spend too much time teaching students how to take tests. Our schools are some of the best in the country. Let's make them better.'

Witt and Avakian both called for overturning the federal 'No Child' standards, with Witt emphasizing the importance of teaching students 'how to think independently and thrive in our local economy.'

All four candidates agreed the Columbia River Crossing project - an expanded Interstate 5 bridge to connect Portland and Vancouver, Wash., - should go forward, but in a more cooperative direction that's more mindful of wasteful spending.

'We have to improve our infrastructure,' Cornilles stressed. 'We've spent $147 million and six years' on the project 'which hasn't even produced a shovel full of dirt.

'I will make sure it gets done and gets done affordably.'

Noting the bridge's role in interstate commerce, Avakian said if elected to Congress, he would advocate for federal assistance.

'My role would be to see the federal government contributes to this project, which spans two states,' he observed.

Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Soucie, one of those in the crowd, said he was impressed by the candidates' ability to express ideas in a concentrated time frame.

'I think it's an important moment for the 1st District,' he said after the forum. 'David Wu was not the most effective kind of congressman, and we deserve the strongest representative we can get.'